SpaceX Will Launch Its First Reused Rocket Later This Month

  • Musk, Bezos pursue reusable rockets to lower space travel cost
  • SpaceX launch planned by end of March, COO Shotwell says

QuickTake: Evolution of the Space Race

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. plans to launch a reused rocket for the first time in the coming weeks, a key step in bringing down space-travel costs for customers and future missions.

SpaceX will take to the skies with a reusable rocket before the end of this month, Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said on a panel at Satellite 2017, an industry conference in Washington.

“SpaceX has been working on reusability since the get go,” Shotwell said Wednesday. “In order to make that work, you need to inspect it and make sure it is ready to fly again. Once we get really good at that, there will be downward pressure on price.”

SpaceX will reuse a Falcon 9 rocket to carry a satellite from Luxembourg’s SES SA into orbit. Relaunching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit and returned to Earth is a critical milestone for the company, which sees rapid reusability as key to driving down costs for the industry. Shotwell said five more previously flown boosters are planned for this year after the launch slated for this month.

SpaceX made history in December 2015 when it landed a Falcon 9 booster that had been sent to space back onto a pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida. In April 2016, the closely held company founded and led by Musk nailed a much harder landing on a drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Now that recovering the rocket boosters has become somewhat routine, re-flying the 14-story-tall booster is the next big step.

Bezos’s Pursuit

Reusability is critical to bringing down space-travel costs, Jeff Bezos, the founder of SpaceX competitor Blue Origin LLC, said at the same conference Tuesday. The Amazon.com Inc. chief executive officer said the future of space travel lies in tourism that’ll allow companies to hone their launching capabilities and embrace a business model similar to commercial airlines.

“If the airline throws it away at the end of every trip, very few people are going to be able to afford to take that vacation,” Bezos said.

Read more: Bezos aims Blue Origin’s ferocity at space tourism

SpaceX has contracts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration valued at $4.2 billion to resupply the International Space Station using its unmanned Dragon spacecraft and ultimately to ferry astronauts to the orbiting lab from the U.S. using what’s known as Crew Dragon.

The company said last month it plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the space station this year and fly its first crew there in the second quarter of 2018. It also plans to send two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year as it expands into space tourism.

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